Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Grace and the Greater Good: A Blessing for the Maine House of Representatives

It was a great honor this morning to bless the House of Representatives of the great State of Maine. I am grateful to Representative Longstaff for providing this opportunity. I also want to acknowledge the American Jewish World Service for providing me with the perfect text to shape my benediction.

Benediction for the State Legislature
February 29, 2012

Politics is indeed a holy vocation, if and when we choose to make it so. You are the custodians of our great state, and serve a unique role: being the wards of Maine’s most vulnerable. The power to provide care is one of the most beautiful and outstanding abilities that a leader can assume. In order to exercise this power in the Godliest way, one must challenge herself to not only be just, but to also be righteous.

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, a Holocaust survivor and civil rights pioneer, draws important distinctions between justice and righteousness:

“Righteousness goes beyond justice. Justice is strict and exact, giving each person his due. Righteousness implies benevolence, kindness, generosity. Justice is a form, a state of equilibrium; righteousness has a substantive associated meaning. Justice may be legal; righteousness is associated with a burning compassion for the oppressed.

Justice dies when dehumanized, no matter how exactly it may be exercised. Justice dies when deified, for beyond all justice is God's compassion. The logic of justice may seem impersonal, yet the concern for justice is an act of love.”


All of the power, wealth, and control that we possess are gifts from the Almighty. These gifts are grace made manifest. In this legislative session, may you serve justly and righteously, wisely and compassionately, distributing our God-given gifts with a “burning compassion for the oppressed.” May you observe the Biblical commandments of caring for the most vulnerable; providing what is necessary for healing, learning, and prospering.

As you undertake this sacred work, may you be inspired and guided by two of the most important words in the Bible “Hazak v’amatz” Be strong and courageous. May you all be blessed abundantly with God’s love and might in governing this great state.

And let us say, Amen.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Sacred Aging: The Obligations and Challenges of Caring for Elderly Parents

Our next Talmud class will be this

Thursday March 8th at 5:30 pm
Selah Tea Cafe

We will discuss some Talmudic approaches to the topic of elder care. How long and to what extent do adult children need to care for their aging parents? What are the obligations of daughters in law? How much money should children put toward their parents' care? How does a child cope with their parents' dementia?

These are all questions addressed in the Talmud and we will explore the wisdom of its answers together.

Looking forward to seeing you there!

Get Excited for Purim!!

Beth Israel Congregation Invites You to Celebrate Purim!

March 7, 2012

Crafts for Kids from 4:30 pm- 5:00 pm
Festive Potluck Meal from 5:00-6:00 pm
Megillah Reading from 6:00 pm- 7:30 pm

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Hodesh Adar Tov: Live Justly, Give Generously!

It is halachah (Jewish Law) during the month of Adar to give charity to whomever asks. Colby Hillel is bringing the Adar spirit to campus -- every time you go to The Spa (in Pulver Pavilion), you will be asked to donate to the Mid-Maine Homeless Shelter. If you go to Colby or work on campus, give a dollar when you are asked. If you aren't a Colby student, consider eating a meal on campus so that you can do a big mitzvah!


Monday, February 20, 2012

Access Texts: God and the Sapphire Brick

How could Moses, Aaron, Nadav, and Avihu see God in last week's portion, when the Torah tells us that no one can see God and live? Why does God stand on a sapphire brick? What can we learn from this enigmatic story. Click here for the source sheet from last Shabbat's Torah study.

Shavua Tov!

Why Religion and not Just Spirituality? A Jewish Response

Religious But Not Spiritual | RJ Blog

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Friday, February 17, 2012

Exciting News!! Mark Your Calendars for Dr. Ruth Calderon!

Dr. Ruth Calderon, famed Israeli educator and social entrepreneur will be coming to Waterville!

She will be giving two public lectures, one at Colby and one at Beth Israel Congregation.

"Text and Context: Teaching Talmud in Tel Aviv"
Thursday, April 12, 2012 at 7:00 pm
Colby College, Keyes 105

"The Poetics of Rabbinic Short Stories."
Sunday, April 15, 2012 at 10:00 am
Beth Israel Congregation, Kelsey Street Entrance

It is such an honor to welcome her to our community. I hope to see you there!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

When Pity is the Enemy of Justice

Sermon topic this coming Shabbat at Beth Israel Congregation: When Pity is the Enemy of Justice: Thoughts on Parashat Mispatim. Services are at 6pm. Help us enrich our exploration of Torah and make minyan!

Judea Pearl on Anti-Zionism - A Must Read

Judea Pearl: Anti-Zionism is Racism – Forward Thinking – The Jewish Daily Forward

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Monday, February 6, 2012

Get Ready for Tu Bishvat!

Here's a youtube video to help you prepare for our seder. We will pot plants, sing, dance, learn about environmentalism and eat and this special joint event with Barrels!

This week! Wednesday at 5:30 - 7:00 pm at Beth Israel Congregation.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Maine Residents Struggle to Heat Their Homes

I was saddened to see this story in the New York Times about how difficult it is for Mainers to heat their homes. However, most of us know how tough times are in Central Maine without reading it in the paper.

As a Jewish community, we are called upon to be generous and kind to those in need. Jewish tradition teaches us that to save one life is akin to saving the whole world. We all need to take action now (no matter how big or small) to help those in our community who are struggling. Waterville Clergy are working together to provide help for families like these. Please consider donating to the Interfaith Resource Fund. You can address checks to:

Pleasant Street UMC, with IRF on memo line. (Stands for Interfaith Resource Fund)

Beth Israel Congregation will also have baskets available for donations at Tu Beshvat and Purim.

Friday, February 3, 2012

On Love and Faith: Honoring the Galena Family

Hindy Poupko was my first close Orthodox friend. When I initially met her at my first Wexner retreat, I was both surprised and delighted that my roommate was this spunky, funny, outgoing, open, strong, and sharp woman. We spent eight nights a year for four years laughing at late night television, processing all that we had learned and discussed that day, talking earnestly about where we had come from, what it meant for us to be women of faith, and our relationships. An Orthodox, Beis Yaakov and Stern College educated woman and liberal, lesbian rabbinical student would talk about the people we grew to love. She would take my side when I broke up with a woman and rejoice when I had found someone who I really cared about. And she spoke giddily about this cute boy she had met, Seth, who she could not wait to marry, and would come to be her loving husband.

In Hindy, I met someone who resembled no one else I had ever met. She walked through this world with poise, confidence, humor, and perspective. What I came to love about her most then is what still fills me with pride now: she is confident in her faith – she carries it naturally and without pretense – it is simply integrated into the basic data of her life. And as a result, she possesses an openness and sensitivity to people of all backgrounds, curious about who they are and the relationships that she could build with them.

In the aftermath of her daughter’s untimely and tragic death, many people are asking, what made Ayelet’s z”l story different? Undoubtedly, part of what made her story so special was the strength and courage that this two year old girl could muster in the most tragic and painful of circumstances. Also, a large part of what connected us to her story was the amazing family and community that supported and loved her each day. We marveled at the humor with which Seth would update us consistently, the knowledge that Hindy had acquired and used to advocate for her precious daughter, how Ayelet’s grandmother, Arna, would step in time and time again to give Hindy and Seth a break, the aunts and uncles that flew in from around the country for Shabbos, the challot that were baked for them each week, the psalms offered each day at their New York synagogue, and the loving messages posted on facebook from people near and far.

In the face of tragedy, so many people turn inward, protective of their pain and their privacy. To do this natural and justified. However, Seth and Hindy made themselves vulnerable, opened themselves up to the world for help, and they received abundance in return. More than anything, their faith brought them to ask for prayers and mitzvahs: gestures of kindness, of love, of goodness that would bring greater light to the world for Ayelet’s sake. In this family we witnessed steadfast faith and authentic openness, and we could not help but be compelled to be better people because of it. In Ayelet’s story, we saw the greatness that a Torah life provides and the grandeur that the Jewish people can produce when called upon to be its best.

I remember clearly one of the last marathon conversations that I had with Hindy. She mentioned that she was buying something to remind Seth and her to say bedtime Shema. It was one of those moments when I consciously remembered Hindy’s emunah, which she usually carried quietly. At Ayelet’s funeral, we burst into tears as Seth recalled the final Shema that they sang with their daughter before she died. They had called upon their God, traditions, and daily rituals to provide them with words when there were none.

The love and faith of her parents brought Ayelet into this world, sustained her each day, and ushered her peacefully toward the wings of the shechina upon her death. May she rest in peace in her eternal home, and may the love, faith, and goodness of her life serve as timeless blessings for all who loved her.

Ken Yehi Ratzon.